Welcome to the GI Trail Northern Ireland!
Get ready to explore the unique and fascinating history of the GIs in Northern Ireland. There are so many sites scattered across our province holding untold stories from the friendly invasion of US troops. Many Northern Ireland locals have very fond memories of the Americans and look back on the war days with a great sense of nostalgia. But first, a little background information as to how the Americans ended up thousands of miles away from home is necessary.
America Enters the Second World War
War was raging throughout Europe from 1939 but the Americans did not join the war effort until after the Japanese bombed the US Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbour on 7 December 1941. The first of two waves of Japanese aircraft launched a devastating attack on the fleet with no advanced warning and no declaration of war. It destroyed four battleships and damaged four more in just two hours, destroying 188 US aircraft. Over 2,400 Americans were killed, with another 1,200 injured, but Japan only lost 100 men. The attacked was viewed as a great vicitory by Japan and Nazi Germany but they did not realise at the time that they had awoken a ‘sleeping giant’.
The day after the Pearl Harbour attacks, the US declared war against Japan. On 11 December 1941, Germany and Italy declared war on the United States, therefore bringing American fully into the Second World War.
Plans were put into motion to train thousands of US troops in Northern Ireland and soon, military bases and airfields began to spring up around the quiet countryside. Northern Ireland was chosen as a training base due to the fact that it had similar landscapes and weather to Europe where most of the fighting was taking place. It was also hoped, that if the Nazi’s did try to invade England, Northern Ireland could be used as a base from which to stop them.
In November 1942, Operation Torch, the invasion of North West Africa, became the first US military offensive of the war in the West.
‘The Yanks Are Coming!’
From January to September 1942, 40,000 Americans arrived in Northern Ireland as part of the 5th (US) Army Corps HQ, the 34th US Infantry Division (Mechanised) and the 1st (US) Armored Division. The 34th US Infantry and 1st US Armored Divisions would then take part in Operation Torch in November 1942; the invasion of North West Africa; while the 5th Corps departed for England, eventually taking part in the D-Day Landings.
From October 1943 to June 1944 a further 120,000 Americans arrived in Northern Ireland including the 15th (US) Army Corps HQ and the 2nd, 5th and 8th US Infantry Divisions, the 82nd Airborne Division and elements of the 8th and 9th Airforces. They would then depart for Britain to participate in the Operation Overlord D-Day landings at Normandy in June 1944.
- The US Navy
Before the Americans officially entered the war, they had already began their preparations and were in the process of constructing bases at Londonderry. From early 1942 ships arrived at the Foyle with around 70 vessels docked during the highpoint of the war. The Navy presence started to subside from mid-1943 onwards.
- The US Army Air Force
Much like the Navy, prior to the American entrance into the war, air force bases were already under construction with the huge Langford Lodge being used as the main base in Northern Ireland. The massive complex and airfield housed maintenance facilities from August 1942 – May 1944 with over 14,000 aircraft serviced there throughout the duration. Air force crews were also based at Eglinton and Maydown from summer 1942 and Combat Crew Replacement Centres were in operation at Cluntoe, Greencastle, Mullaghmore and Toome. Air Force crews were brought straight from the states and trained here in preparation for action in Europe.
For an excellent overview of the US Air Force in Northern Ireland you can read Ernie Cromie’s new book called Over Head and Over Here which tells the story of American military aviation in Northern Ireland during the Second World War. This book can be bought from the Northern Ireland War Memorial Museum, Belfast.
- The US Army
The US Army arrived in two waves, the first being the 1st Armored Division and 34th Infantry Division. They were trained here before setting off for action in North Africa’s Operation Torch. They were part of V Corps and served in Northern Ireland from January 1942 to October 1942. The second wave of troops arrived in October 1943 and stayed until July 1944. Thie second wave consisted of XV Corps with the 2nd, 5th and 8th Infantry Divisions who were later joined by the famous 82nd Airborne Division.
Around 120,000 US troops were in Northern Ireland at the height of deployment and it is estimated that during the Second World War around 300,000 ‘passed through’.
Settling into Life in Northern Ireland
The Americans arrived in Northern Ireland with their smart uniforms, exotic accents and unique swagger. They were scattered across towns and villages all over the province. As you can imagine it was a bit of a culture shock for the Americans and locals alike! But the strange accents soon became normality and the troops began to feel at home. The Americans brought with them many things Northern Ireland had never before seen or experienced – chewing gum, swing music, candy and jiving to stars such as Bob Hope and Glenn Miller, to name but a few new additions. Many friendships and romances blossomed, making it hard for the locals when these young men had to depart for England, onwards to Europe on their mission to defeat the Nazi’s.
Start exploring our trails now and join us on our journey to discover the stories of the American GIs in Northern Ireland during the Second World War!